Supplies Arrive For Delayed Rescue Effort
YAKUTAT, Alaska (AP) _ A Coast Guard cargo plane has arrived with volunteers, guides, nearly five tons of gear and a portable base camp to be used in a stalled effort to rescue porpoises and seals stranded by a glacier.
An advance team has been in Yakutat all week trying to untangle the logistics of airlifting the animals out of glacier-dammed Russell Lake, a former fiord surrounded by mountain wilderness on the Alaska Panhandle.
The rescuers, who had planned to begin the operation Tuesday, will be limited to preliminary ventures onto the lake for at least a few more days, said rescue spokeswoman Joy McBride.
The team, which arrived Friday, must get a seaplane to move boats, camping equipment, nets and the noise-makers that may be used in the roundup to the site of an auxiliary camp on the lake’s shore, McBride said.
The California Marine Mammal Center and the Whale Museum, based in Friday Harbor, Wash., is directing the airlift of an estimated 150 seals and porpoises cut off from the ocean last spring when a surge of the Hubbard Glacier created the lake.
The increase in fresh water has drastically reduced the animals’ food supply of salt water organisms.
Some experts have criticized the rescue effort, saying it is too late and the animals are too sick to save. The Costeau Society pulled out of the venture Monday.
But those leading the effort say the seals still are healthy enough. They are considering a number of ways to try catching the animals in the lake’s deep water.
The porpoises may be herded by a V-shaped flotilla carrying pipe-banging volunteers, said Rich Hamblin, a capture coordinator for the mammal center. The sound of the pipes would scare the porpoises into shallow water, where they could be scooped up in nets and carried by helicopter to the ocean.
’The healthy animals we’ll just airlift ... to the other side of the glacier,″ Hamblin said.
Sick animals will be taken to a rehabilitation center now being built at the ARCO Alaska Inc. wharf near Yakutat. The volunteers have made the wharf their base.